Bumper crop multiplies Agra potato farmers’ woes

March 26th, 2008 - 11:02 am ICT by admin  

By Brij Khandewal
Agra, March 26 (IANS) They were rejoicing after a bumper potato crop this year. But potato cultivators in the Agra region are now despairing over “house full” signboards at cold storages. The Agra region in Uttar Pradesh cultivates more than 30 percent of the country’s total potato yield.

For more than 10 days, long queues have been visible along the Hathras, Mathura, Firozabad, Fatehpur Sikri roads, leading to traffic jams and fights among tractor-trolley owners and truckers on the one side and cold storage owners on the other.

Police are under tremendous pressure to maintain peace while reports of cold storage owners fleeing after putting the “house full” boards have added to the agony of potato cultivators.

For the past five or six years, potato prices have been stable and the farmers in this area have reaped good profits. This year the yield has gone up beyond expectations. The problem now is of storing the additional crop.

Agra and its neighbourhood have around 200 cold storages.

Chiranji Lal, a farmer of Achnera block, said: “The potato quality is also good. It is clean without any dark spots as were seen last year due to bad weather, frost and all.”

Acting district horticulture officer Subhash Chandra said efforts were being made to store every gram of potato. “Cold storages in the neighbouring states were also being sounded and we will see to it that the farmers don’t suffer due to poor or inadequate storage capacity,” he said.

Some reports said the local cold storages were not full but the owners probably wanted to make some quick money by revising the rates to take advantage of the farmers’ plight.

“The Uttar Pradesh government has now sent out circulars to all district magistrates and commissioners to ensure that the farmers are not put to a disadvantage on this count,” said an official of the department of horticulture.

In Hathras district, half a dozen incidents of violence were reported at the gates of cold storages which the owners bolted from outside and ran away. In one such case, the owner resorted to firing to scare away the farmers.

The government estimates suggested that the state’s total potato cultivation has crossed 125 million tonnes this year, with Agra and Kanpur being the top producers in terms of quantity.

Uttar Pradesh has more than 1,300 cold storages, which can store around nine million tonnes.

“If it (additional crop) goes to the market under distress it will definitely bring down the prices which will mean disaster for the cultivators,” said agricultural pricing specialist B.B. Barik of Bichpuri Rural Vidhyapeeth.

Although the government has announced that it would export some quantities to Bangladesh and Mauritius, this is yet to be implemented. Efforts are also under way to dispatch rakes to Bangalore and other southern centres.

Lok Dal legislator Anil Choudhary, a leader of the potato cultivators, said if the government had set up some processing units in the area at the right time, the present crisis could have been averted.

“In the past, state governments have toyed with the idea of setting up vodka units, potato chip units, but no ground work has ever been done,” said Ravi Singh, a farmer of Barauli Ahir block in Agra.

According to Agriculture experts, farmers have to spend Rs.5,500 for cultivating one bigha of potato, but at today’s rate the return from one bigha would not be more than Rs.4,500.

“It’s bad economics. It is high time farmers in this area were persuaded to change to other crops. Earlier, this whole belt was a wheat growing area, but then farmers switched to potato which they found more profitable,” says Yash Pal Chauhan, another farmer from the area.

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